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We are facing a crisis in Montana: an emergency that affects a large percentage of our community members, and a crisis that puts our most vulnerable neighbors at risk. This is due to cuts to Medicaid funding for human services across the state.

Because of a predicted shortfall in the state budget, and because of an unwillingness of the majority of state legislators to work together to raise revenue, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services was mandated to cut more than $12 million out of the health budget for the next 18 months, resulting in an additional loss of $20 million in matching federal funds. These cuts are devastating when we were already struggling to provide adequate services to people in need.

Clearly, deciding on how these cuts should be made has been an awful responsibility for DPHHS to face. Although I cannot say where these cuts could be made without putting people at risk, I can say that the cuts to mental health and addiction services — which include case management and therapy for adults and children living with mental illness and developmental disabilities, programs for victims of abuse, the foster care program, group homes that provide safe housing and supports for adults and children, and severe cuts to addiction treatment programs — these cuts that affect thousands of people in our state, are absolutely unacceptable and are grossly negligent.

Currently in Montana one in five people live with a mental illness, many of whom have a serious disabling mental illness that requires treatment, case management and therapy to help maintain stability. We have thousands of teens and adults struggling with addiction who need treatment. We have children and adults who have been abused who need safe housing and support. We have thousands of people living with developmental disabilities who depend on case management.

Without these services we put people at great risk, which is likely to result in more suicides, violence, incarcerations, homelessness, higher rates of addiction and more hospitalizations. All of these outcomes are not only morally unacceptable, they will pose higher costs to our state in the long run. Additionally, as a result of these cuts we have hundreds of human service workers who have lost their jobs, when they had already been underpaid for their dedicated hard work.

This affects all of us and it is not who we are as Montanans. We don't turn our backs on our neighbors. We must demand that these cuts not be allowed when they will harm so many of our community members.

I urge you to contact DPHHS and the legislative finance committee and tell them these cuts are unacceptable. I also urge you to contact your state legislators and the governor today and demand they work together to approve an emergency expenditure appropriation to pay for these essential services in the short term, and to work together to ensure that we can fund needed services over the long haul. Find contact information for DPHHS and the legislature by going to MT.Gov.

Sue Silverberg is a mental health therapist in Missoula. 

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